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The 2011 Draft Is Here
Break Out Your Crystal Ball and Bills Sneakers
by Tony Bogyo
April 19, 2011

Mid April is here and it’s time for the NFL draft. You can feel the excitement growing in the dedicated NFL fans. You know what I mean when I say dedicated fan – the type of person whose passion is the NFL, the type of person who closely follows their team, even the mundane offseason news, the type of person who follows their team daily, even when their team gives them little to smile about.

Let’s face it – if you’re reading this article, the musings of another fan on the upcoming draft as posted on a website called Bills Daily, you’re a pretty dedicated fan. Perhaps your spouse or significant other harbors deep resentment over your passion for something which is not them, perhaps you own more Bills attire than you care to admit (I myself own Bills socks AND sneakers). Whatever your reason, you have to be a dedicated fan if you get excited about a Buffalo Bills draft.

Seriously – aside for daydreaming of future glory, what makes you think you’re going to witness something other than yet another sad chapter in team history when the commissioner steps up to the podium next week? Is it blind devotion? The law of averages that says "they’re due"? The theory that if you shoot aimlessly into the forest enough times you’ll eventually shoot a 10 point buck? Whatever the reason, my hat’s off to you. I wake up at night in a cold sweat sometimes when I think back to Bills draft ("with the 11th pick of the first round, the Buffalo Bills select Aaron Maybin, defensive end, Penn State…8th pick...Bills…Donte Whitner") and yet I’m still excited – hope is a powerful drug.

So I’m a dedicated fan – my friends and family would agree (in fact, they think I’m crazy). But I’m not as hardcore as some others. You know the type – the guys who can tell you who the Bills drafted in the 6th round in 2002 off the top of their head, the guys who are busy tweaking the 10th version of their full 7 round mock draft, the guys who live in a basement or some other windowless room. I salute you guys as well – just try to understand your chance of accurately picking all 7 rounds of Bills picks is about as likely as hitting a 12 spot Keno in Vegas.

The truth is, no matter how much you follow the Bills nobody really has an inside track on what they will do in the draft. The possibilities are many, as are the theories on how things will unfold. And the Bills like it just like that – keep ‘em guessing.

The Bills have a lot of options with their first pick in the draft. The team has needs at almost every position and with the number 3 pick they are all but guaranteed to get their first or second choice at any given position. While some positions no doubt represent stronger needs than others, taking the best available athlete would likely fill one of those needs.

If you believe all the draft analysts, there really aren’t any “can’t miss” prospects in this year’s draft. Certainly there are talented players at a variety of positions, but each has his question marks. There are fewer guarantees this year than there may have been in previous drafts, and getting an impact player is a must for the Bills.

With the rush defense ranked dead last in 2010 the Bills could and arguably should take a defensive player to help shore up this unit. Defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley have been mentioned as possible picks for the Bills. Both could be nice additions to a defensive line that had trouble keeping opposing running back from getting to the next level of the defense, but questions about intensity and work ethic hang over each player. Some believe Fairley may be a one year wonder and the Bills could be very wary of taking someone with limited college statistics lest they end up with another Maybin. Considering the Bills spent a second round pick on Torrell Troup last season are they really in the market for another defensive tackle? Would that signal an admission that Troup might not live up to expectations?

Defensive end Da’Quon Bowers could be a very effective pass rusher if he can duplicate the efforts of his junior season and his knee is healthy. If his production more closely mirrors his senior season or he needs microfracture surgery on his knee as has been reported there is no way the Bills should consider him at #3.

The current popular pick for the Bills is linebacker Von Miller. A great pass rusher with talent to spare, many believe he would be a good pick for the Bills. The knock on Miller is his size – he’s about 2” shorter and 20 pounds lighter than many NFL players at the same position. Will Miller be able to produce at the NFL level or is he one of those great college players who can’t deal with the size difference at the pro level? Can a small linebacker stop the run, or will his talents be limited to rushing the passer or dropping into coverage? The Bills are famous for finding talented undersize guys who don’t make it in the NFL – Maybin is the most recent example but selecting Miller could be Corey Moore all over again. Are the Bills willing to take the risk on a smaller guy, especially someone who may not be able to improve the league’s worst rush defense?

Cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Patrick Peterson could help add depth and add bodies to a secondary which could lose players to free agency – it is unlikely Drayton Florence will be back with the Bills next season. Amukamara did not register an interception in his senior season at Nebraska and Peterson’s size may force him into a safety role at the NFL level. Is the need great enough and is the impact enough to take either cornerback with the third pick?

On the offensive side of the ball fewer players are up for consideration for the Bills. Some believe the Bills could take wide receiver A.J. Green. With the emergence of Steve Johnson last season the selection of Green could represent a luxury pick along the lines of last year’s selection of C.J. Spiller – can the Bills afford to draft a player at a position where they already have solid starters?

It’s been 15 years since Jim Kelly retired from the Bills and the quarterback position has been in flux ever since. Doug Flutie and Drew Bledsoe provided some temporary sparks at the position, but the Bills have failed to effectively address the signal caller position for a very, very long time – is this the year they attempt to finally shore up the position for the long term?

Cam Newton could be the Bills’ pick if he’s still available at #3. He has tremendous physical skills and scrambling ability, giving him the most potential of any quarterback available in the draft. He’s had issues off the field and ran a spread offense in college so it may take time to adjust to an NFL offense. Newton is also rumored to enjoy the spotlight, something that might be hard to come by in a small market city like Buffalo. Given the time he could need to develop, the character questions and the desire for the spotlight I really don’t see Newton as a good fit for the Bills.

Blaine Gabbert is the other quarterback mentioned as a possible Bills pick. Like Newton he also played in a spread offense in college, but ran a pro-style offense in high school. Some have questioned his arm strength and ability to throw the deep ball, especially in cold and windy conditions like Buffalo. He had fairly pedestrian numbers in his senior college season – 16 TDs and 7 INTs – is he too risky?

The biggest problem for the Bills in picking a quarterback is the risk factor. They’ve been burned in the past with the last first round quarterback they selected (J.P. Losman) as well as third round pick Trent Edwards. Given the high rate at which first round quarterbacks fail, is Buffalo really up for rolling the dice on a quarterback again, especially when Ryan Fitzpatrick looks as if he’s capable of being at the helm of the offense? Will the sins of the past keep the Bills from investing in a potential franchise quarterback for fear of another failure? Unless the Bills can develop an outstanding defense and an offense that can move the ball without major contributions from the quarterback they are going to need a franchise signal caller to turn the ship around.

With such a dismal draft record over the past decade they simply cannot afford to draft someone who won’t make major contributions to the team, especially because the #3 pick will sign the richest contract in team history. With the third overall pick they are in a position to get an impact player if they select wisely – will they?

So, what will the Bills do? Chan Gaily and Buddy Nix have given several comments to the media extolling the virtues of several players. Nix has proclaimed Newton and Gabbert as potential franchise quarterbacks and the Bills have declared Bowers’ knee healthy. Do these accurately represent the feelings of those at One Bills Drive, or are they smokescreens to throw off other teams and hide their interest in other players? The situation reminds me of the scene in The Princess Bride where Wallace Shawn boasts about his powers of deception in putting poison in one of the glasses in front of him – is the poison in my glass or yours?

With the suspension of the collective bargaining agreement and a lockout in place trading the #3 is going to be very difficult to do. In recent years the contracts demanded by the top 10 picks have really prevented the trading of such picks but there are additional issues. Question marks about what a rookie salary cap will look like and whether trading future draft picks is advisable or enforceable further reduce the chance of the Bills trading their pick. Add to the equation there are few, if any "can’t miss" players for which other teams will be clamoring and the Bills simply aren’t going to be trading their pick.

Nobody knows what the Bills will do when they send their pick up to the podium on Thursday April 28. With so many needs, so many question marks about possible draftees, no collective bargaining agreement and a wealth of doublespeak coming out of One Bills Drive your guess is as good as mine – even Chris Berman’s cabbie probably doesn’t have a clue. Unless you’re working on the 12th revision of your 7 round mock draft you know that this is all conjecture. You have your thoughts on what they should do and so do I – but as a fan who writes a Bills column I’ll give you my opinion.

I think the Bills should go after a quarterback IF (and that’s a big IF) they feel that a franchise player is available. Hopefully you won’t be picking in the top 5 again for some time so this could be the last chance you have to be in the running for the crème de la crème of any given draft class. I don’t know what Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey really feel about this year’s quarterbacks – few people do. They are surely much better evaluators of NFL quarterback talent than I am and if they don’t feel Newton or Gabbert is going to be a franchise quarterback then making another selection is fine with me. Last year many thought the Bills were crazy for not grabbing Jimmy Clausen but in hindsight the Bills’ front office saw something that the draft pundits did not and wisely passed on the kid from Notre Dame. At the time the Mel Kipers of the world screamed that Clausen was slipping but given his performance on the field last year his second round selection may have actually been too high.

If the Bills are really sold on Newton or Gabbert they should pull the trigger. It may be hard to take that sort of a risk, but they can’t let past draft failures dictate how they’ll draft next week. Given that the Bills are so far away from being contenders and have a steady if unspectacular hand at quarterback right now it could be an ideal time to take and groom a young quarterback. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a smart – make that extremely smart –guy without a huge ego or baggage and could be an ideal tutor for young player with talent but no experience. With the current labor strife unresolved a draftee could miss significant time prior to their first NFL game and this may also push the Bills towards drafting someone they are not expecting to need on the field right away – a quarterback?

I personally think Blaine Gabbert is a better fit for the Bills than Cam Newton – he’s smarter, makes good, quick reads and seems to have some natural instinct for the game. He also appears to be more NFL ready than Cam Newton although many feel Newton offers more potential. Again, it will come down to what the folks at One Bills Drive think about the talent available.

Many fans will hate the selection of a quarterback, realizing that they aren’t going to get much of an immediate contribution on the field. Taking a quarterback will also mean bypassing someone who could have an impact as a rookie. You probably know how frustrated and pessimistic I’ve become with the Bills, but you have to admit that they are not exactly on the cusp of being contenders. I have to wonder if fans really feel the Bills can win now as opposed to 4 years from now. I like to see the Bills win as much as the next guy and I’m desperate to see more wins, but I’m not willing to pass on a franchise quarterback just so the team can win 2 more games next year.

If the Bills pass on a quarterback for the right reasons – determining nobody is going to be a solid enough NFL signal caller rather than fear of pulling the trigger – I’m OK with that. If that is the scenario the Bills must select a player at an area of need who will actually see significant playing time and have a positive impact. Aside from quarterback, no other position should be allowed a developmental year – get them playing and get them playing now. I’d prefer the Bills take a player with some size and ability to stop the run – for far too long the Bills have gone with smaller guys with a quick first step who have been busts – no more. Get some size on the line and stop opposing runners from hitting the second level of the defense at top speed and allow linebackers to rush the passer or drop into coverage.

Whatever happens next week it’ll feel good to be excited about football – it could be the last NFL thing to get excited about for a long time. For Bills fans it’s always nice to daydream about the future and forget about the past. So finish your 7 round mock drafts, folks and I’ll see you at the draft – I’ll be the guy wearing the Bills socks and shoes…..

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